21st Century Firefighting

If we took a snapshot of today's American fire service, what would we find compared to 10 or 20 or even 50 years ago? Sure, our vehicles have changed, as has our personal protective equipment (PPE), but have we changed how we do business, at least in...


If we took a snapshot of today's American fire service, what would we find compared to 10 or 20 or even 50 years ago? Sure, our vehicles have changed, as has our personal protective equipment (PPE), but have we changed how we do business, at least in terms of strategy and tactics? Don't we rush to...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

If we took a snapshot of today's American fire service, what would we find compared to 10 or 20 or even 50 years ago? Sure, our vehicles have changed, as has our personal protective equipment (PPE), but have we changed how we do business, at least in terms of strategy and tactics?

Don't we rush to the scene, just as we did 50 years ago? Don't we deploy hoselines quickly once we get on location, just as we did a generation or two ago? Don't we still save lives and property, just as in years past? Or, do we?

Our proud and tradition-oriented profession has the dubious distinction of being one of the most dangerous, outside of warfare. We lose over 100 firefighters a year doing what we have been doing for centuries. Maybe that's the problem! As retired Phoenix, AZ, Fire Chief Alan Brunacini said, "For 200 years, we've been providing a service at the expense of those providing the service."

As a profession, we keep saying that we should be safer. We have convened think tanks, committees and blue-ribbon panels, but have we really affected our death and injury rates? It seems like we are merely lemmings marching to our deaths. In a way, our behavior is one of mass suicide because we keep doing the same things over and over, unquestioningly, with fatal consequences. Isn't this pure insanity?

The point here is simply the concept of recognition; that is, recognition of when situations cannot be effectively handled the way they used to be handled; recognition that data and current information must be thoroughly examined in order to employ a "best-practices" approach; and recognition that new paradigms must be developed and instituted to effectively satisfy situational goals and objectives and avoid the needless loss of lives, especially firefighter lives.

This article is part one of a three-part series that will analyze data on the present state of the fire service and why so many firefighters are killed each year in our country. Part two will look at the value of learning fire behavior intrinsically along with the dynamics of fire for interior firefighting. Part three will offer new and safer alternatives to fighting fire from a best-practices approach.

Lessons for the Fire Service

Over 100 years ago, the philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." His simple insight should be committed to memory. Everyone in the fire service should know our history, but many lessons of the past are forgotten. While many tragedies and disasters have occurred to firefighters and we honor the memory of those who lost their lives, do we apply the lessons to our present context? We should look for commonalities and respond accordingly.

Consider this: John Naisbitt's insightful book Megatrends analyzed business trends over time in order to predict the future. Many of his predictions came to be. Naisbitt's looking backwards provided a glimpse of what was to come, but the way in which the research was conducted was the key: Naisbitt and his staff looked at data from an outsider's standpoint. They distinctly avoided a "can't see the forest for the trees" philosophy.

The American fire service would do well to employ the same concepts in analyzing its own data and trends. At the 2007 Fire-Rescue International conference, a Swedish fire official, Dr. Stefan Svensson, offered his views of the American fire service and its safety record. While many in the audience were offended by his blunt approach, maybe we should not kill the messenger. If we as a profession are to improve, we must be open to constructive criticism. We also must stop discrediting "messengers" such as those from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) who investigate firefighter fatalities. While it is true that many NIOSH investigators do not have fire service experience, they indicate where the fire service can learn and apply concepts to maintain safety.

The New Battlefield

This content continues onto the next page...